‘Worlding’ in a world of blended teaching and learning by Dr. Kerry Chappell

                                             Photo by Ian Cumming

Welcome to this, the first of the CEEN blogs for the 2020/2021 academic year. I’m not a hugely experienced blogger, but it’s something I’ve been encouraged to do more, and can increasingly see the value of, to create spaces for open-ended ruminations and debate. I hope CEEN colleagues and those who find a connection to our work will therefore join in with these ruminations and debates, either to step forward to write a blog, or to comment and debate on the monthly postings. So here goes……

In my first public blog, for BERA, in February of this year, I asked the question Where do we go from here with creativity and creative pedagogy? I offered insight into the principles of creative pedagogy that I had written about with my colleague, Teresa Cremin, in a recent systematic review. Little did I know that a month later, the fundamental assumption of face-to-face practice underpinning those pedagogies would be left by the wayside. We all rapidly shifted to online teaching, meetings and research – sometimes I sat for eight hours at a stretch staring at my colleagues in the virtual ether, working hard to connect, and research/practice creative pedagogy. It wasn’t always especially satisfying, but we muddled through.

When I finally got some leave my optician put me on post-operative eye drops – apparently, we stop blinking when we work on screens all the time – my corneas were like well-used chopping boards. Not only this, but I also began to identify a sense of unease[i] – about what, I wasn’t sure. As lockdown lifted slightly, and face-to-face interaction became more possible, I began to understand where this unease came from. I was speaking to people with them in ‘real’ view, albeit at a 2 metre distance; with my professional background in dance education, I was able to take on a small project working with local Dartmoor-based MED theatre company on an outdoor socially distanced performance; I sat in a room with a colleague (at a distance) as we needed to work on a physical resource together. I realised what the sense of unease related to.  It was about the connection through moving, what Erin Manning calls  ‘body worlding’[ii]:

Movement is one with the world, not body/world but body worlding. We move not to populate space, not to extend it or to embody it, but to create it.

I had lost part of this capacity to create the world and my relationships in it; I still had my movement but, on screen, somehow, I wasn’t able to fully enter into ‘worlding’; I was being pushed into a body/world divide, which as Manning articulates above is not the whole picture. I am perhaps, like other dance colleagues, more heightened to this particular source of unease, but I think when we turn our attention to it, it’s something we can all identify with.

We now all face a new academic year that will be at least ‘blended’, and probably, at times, fully online again. I feel that I’m being challenged (sometimes in the extreme!) to imagine how I can, not just muddle through, but honour the creative pedagogic principles that I research and try to practice, whilst not being able to engage fully, bodily, in worlding. In the context of this blog, I’m especially wondering about this in relation to our Creative and Emergent Educational-futures Network. We have wonderful colleagues and students in the network researching, practicing and teaching in an array of areas: music education experiences through a posthuman lens; decolonising educational relationships in HE; transdisciplinary education; pedagogical innovation in religious education; student-resistance through space; experience of pedagogical change in dance education. We are all reliant on our ability to create ideas and spaces bodily. And yet, we are now all working to design teaching and research partially or wholly through screens, sometimes needing to work asynchronously through an array of new digital tools. This honestly feels challenging to body worlding.

So I find myself turning to our conversations about pluriversality[iii]. In 2019, CEEN colleagues made a shared commitment to explore this concept, as and when appropriate to our academic practices.  By this we mean that we respect, acknowledge and work with varied systems of being-knowing (including for example embodying, decolonising, posthumanising); we entangle ourselves in research/teaching from within these practices not outside of them; we often (but not always) work with dialogue, pushing ourselves into pluriversal engagements with humans and other-than-humans; we aim to see/experience/shift power differentials, continually trying to find our own blindspots, to de-centre, and not always seek consensus.

So, I’m asking how can we apply these ideas to make the best of our current predicament? I’ve come across tantalising glimpses of new solutions that embrace some of these elements of pluriversality – group visualisation techniques on Zoom using narrated scripts to draw participants into shared imaginary worlds (these are not the usual body worldings, but have some qualitative similarities); data collection methods using the good-old postal service to deliver carefully crafted scrapbooks for participants to share artefacts and arts-based responses; clever use of digital sharing platforms to offer spaces for participants to share data/ways of being-knowing in multiple media, pushing well beyond word-based formats that may have been relied on pre-COVID, and which see digital platforms as allies. These are small beginnings and they (perhaps to me anyway) always seem to come with a desire to integrate body worldings when possible. But they do give me hope that we can find new, positively emerging educational and research futures as a response to our current constraints.

I do still have unease though – amongst other things I worry that fast-scholarship style, neoliberal institutional approaches will colonise asynchronous digital delivery, will ‘package up’ academic knowledge, simplifying and commodifying it. I worry that body worlding will come to be seen as a nice ‘added extra’ rather than a necessity. I worry that pedagogies grounded in care, access, kindness, inclusion, relationality, creativity…. will struggle to translate through screens without staff given time (not just resource) to figure out how to do all of this.

But it’s early days in the 20/21 academic year, so I’m trying to stay alert to my unease, whilst exploring multiple emerging options; trying to learn from colleagues and hear their unease too. Perhaps most of all I’m trying to keep a shared sense of humour over the sometimes seemingly every-changing guidelines. I have my DanceLab colleagues to thank for this in helping to get as close as we can in our choreographic experiments to body worlding, and to use this as a starting point for any online/practice-based teaching I’ll be doing.  I’ll leave you with this example to hand, alongside the conundrums ruminated upon above.  If you would like, please respond below, and/or if you would like to offer a blog post in the monthly series, please contact CEEN PGR, Heather Wren:

Kerry Chappell is the leader of CEEN and an Associate Professor within GSE at UoE

[i] Thanks to my colleague Dr Katie Natanel for debates which helped me see this as a productive force

[ii] Manning, E. (2009). Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Massachusetts: MIT Press

[iii] Blair Vasconcelos, A. & Martin, F.with Wren H. (2019). Plurality, Plurilogicality and Pluriversality: A Literature Review. Unpublished: available on the CEEN website https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/education/research/networks/ceen/researchprojects/pluralisingdifference/